Aubrey and Maturin (The Thirteen Gun Salute, p. 496; The Surgeon's Mate--see below) sail again. This time it's to The Meal to blockade the French fleet in Toulon. Fickle westerlies, however, blow them to the Aegean, and political currents put them in the middle of Ottoman affairs. Sinking into debt (thanks to his idiotic investments) and out of favor with their Lords of the Admiralty (thanks to his politically rash father), Captain Jack Aubrey misses the chance for a top-rate new ship and has to settle for H.M.S. Worcester, an ancient, leaky man-of-war. Undignified as the assignment may be, Aubrey is quite pleased to be able to sail away from Britain. He can't get things right on shore, but he is quick enough to put Worcester to trim, taking slack out of the sails and the crew until Worcester is the ablest ship in the line bottling up Napoleon's navy in Toulon. Meanwhile, of course, Aubrey's old friend Stephen Maturin, at last married to the woman he has followed to numerous hemispheres, is with him. The French toy with the English, trying to sneak through the blockade, but there are no conclusive actions. Maturin is eventually assigned a little espionage duty, and there is a hair-raising infiltration of the enemy coast. When Worcester at last gives up the ghost after one too many skirmishes, Aubrey transfers his pennant to the smaller, swifter Surprise and follows orders to sail to the Greek islands to tinker with the balance of power at the fringes of the Turkish empire. Splendid adventures at a stately pace.